Owen Lewis is still settling into the director’s chair at the Cook Islands Tertiary Training Institute (CITTI).
Mangaia-born Lewis accepted the challenge of bringing the Cook Islands Trades Training Centre (CITTC) and the Hospitality and Tourism Training Centre (HTTC) under the same body, with an aim to increase the range of qualifications available at tertiary level.
Lewis grew up in Mangaia, and attended school there before spending his final year of secondary school at Tereora College, where he was taught by University of the South Pacific director Rod Dixon.
“The attraction of this is I was coming back to where I grew up – and there’s the opportunity to develop something innovative and meaningful to people,” said Lewis.
Lewis is the son of David Lewis, former principal of Mangaia, Atiu and Tereora colleges and chairman of the 1989 Cook Islands Ministerial Taskforce on Education.
After doing a national certificate in engineering in Auckland, Lewis decided it was not for him and tried his hand at teaching instead at Canterbury’s Teacher Training College. He has degrees in mathematics and psychology and is a qualified teacher who has taught at Mangaia College, Atiu College and Tereora College.
He arrived on Rarotonga two weeks ago from New Zealand, where he was working as a contractor on the Learning and Engagement Programme at Auckland Museum.
He also has over 20 years’ experience in working with Maori and Pasifika organisations in New Zealand. This includes tutoring at New Zealand Maori tertiary institution Te Wananga O Aotearoa, where he says he “learned a lot”.
“We had a lot of people that were disengaged, and being somewhere that was geared for that was really exciting. It was the students that taught me.
“A lot of our young people (in the Cook Islands) are the same – we’ve got to find a way to get them engaged.”
But Lewis said there needs to be a clear purpose to tertiary training.
“I’m not into training for the sake of training. We need to assess where there are opportunities in the workplace.”
The Cook Islands needs tertiary training that is tailored to the community’s needs, said Lewis.
“It’s not the same as New Zealand – we don’t need to churn out 20 or 30 plumbers a year. We need a model that suits us.”
Lewis has an active involvement in sport and has served on several school boards. His daughters, Cook Islanders Adoniah and Keziah Lewis are basketball scholarship students in the USA and are both NZ National Basketball age-group representatives. He has three other younger children who are also up and coming Cook Islands athletes.